By Bibi Khatoon
One day after the Education Ministry announced its contingency plan to deal with the teachers strike, parents have raised concerns about whether it is the best approach to the situation.
On Monday, the Ministry announced that it has decided on a plan which will see 350 trainee teachers from the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) and a number of retired teachers taking up the slack when teachers proceed on strike on September 3rd.
Education Minister, Nicolette Henry and officials from the Ministry have been visiting various schools across the country ahead of the strike action planned by the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU).
At a meeting with parents who have children attending the Queen’s College on Tuesday afternoon, the Minister noted that efforts are being made to ensure that students are in the classrooms.
However, the parents are skeptical about the quality and quantity of retired and newly trained teachers who will ‘take up the slack.’
The parents raised a number of issues about the capability of those teachers, the cost associated with hiring them and the ability of students to adapt.
One parent, Khemraj Narine applauded the Ministry for putting systems in place but questioned the cost of hiring the new teachers as he made a case for teachers represented by the GTU to be given their salary increases.
“How much will it cost the Government to hire these people (Retired and trainee teachers) compared to giving the Teachers what they are asking?” the parent questioned as he noted that the cost of living has significantly increased over the years.
The Education Minister posited that “cost of living is an issue for everyone.”
Narine also noted that teachers coming out of the CPCE may have had little to no experience in the classrooms, therefore it will be challenging to deal with nursery aged students, for example.
“You send a teacher from Cyril Potter College to first form Queen’s College, the children will chew them up, samething at Bishop’s (High School), you have to know what you’re dealing with”, an emotional Michele Fraser who has two children attending QC, argued.
In response, Minister Henry defended the graduates, noting that they are capable since every teacher in the system are products of CPCE. She added that the plan being put in place is one which was formulated since before her ascension to office.
The GTU made a proposal for salary increases across the board in a multi-year agreement- from 20% for 2016 to 50% for 2018 to 2020. This was refused by the Government as unaffordable.
Narine also criticised the Government for increases granted to themselves in 2015.
The Minister told those gathered that the 50% increases granted to Government Ministers and Members of Parliament was a one-off but noted that the GTU’s proposal spanned several years.
Nicola Trotman, also a parent, questioned whether there are sufficient teachers to take up the positions of those who will be on strike. She further called for a middle ground to be met between the government and the union as it will also be difficult for some students to adapt to new teachers.
Minister Henry, in offering an explanation, said the plan is “not a one size fits all” plan.
Instead, she noted that from the first day of school, monitors will be at schools calculating the percentage of teachers on strike to determine the substitutes needed.
She disclosed that “at this point in time,” the number of teachers who showed an interest on partaking in the strike action hasn’t affected the Ministry “in a large way.”
Oswin Coggins questioned what is being put in place to adjust the curricula for students who are going to start fifth form in September since their learning is continual up to the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Examination.
“This first term can have a significant impact in terms of how students progress or how they will deliver at the end of the school year,” he noted.
Minister Henry pointed to the orientation as one way of dealing with the concern.
She was firm in her indication that the Government cannot afford a 40% increase in salaries at this point for teachers.
“I don’t know if there is any developing country that can afford to give its workers 40% increase when there is no substantial growth to make that sustainable,” she said.
The Minister likened the Government to a parent who has to equally divide a sum of money between a number of children, noting that if the increase by some means is given to the teachers, other classes of workers will demand same.
Her position was echoed by Chief Education Officer, Marcel Hutson who sought to imply that the parents were taking the side of the teachers. He noted that the Ministry cannot sit back and not do anything about the situation.
“I’m getting the feeling that the suggestion is that we should do nothing…but the crux of the matter is we cannot just throw our hands up in the air and let the children die…we cannot allow our children to be sufferers in this process,” he told those gathered.
The Chief Education Officer affirmed that the Ministry of Education is working to address the issue with the Teachers Union as he assured that school will be re-opened on September 3rd.